Monday 30 November 2009

Retirement is not an option.

An acquaintance 'phoned me yesterday to explain that she will not be able to attend a meeting next Saturday and would I please pass on her apologies. I may not get to the meeting either but my reasons for not doing so will be very different from hers.
She is 'baby sitting' for at least the next six months, possibly longer. "Baby sitting" is not quite the right term but it is the one she used. What she will be doing is looking after her son's three children, aged 4, 7 and 10 yrs. She will be doing this full time. It is not the retirement this acquaintance had planned. Retirement was supposed to be a chance to do a little travelling, get the garden in order, do some community work with a service club and the church and join out knitting group. It was supposed to be a slow preparation for a move to a retirement village in the knowledge that her family will not be willing or able to care for her. She is not in the best of health so all of this had been carefully considered. It was supposed to be a balanced approach to life. Now she will be endeavouring to find the energy to do what a much younger person would do. What is more she will have to do it alone. Her husband died some years ago.
Add to all that there are her daughter's children, the two who need to be picked up from school and taken to football and athletics and all the other activities. She will be caring for them over the month of the summer holidays as well.
Her children know what they are asking. They say it will keep her busy, active, young and that it will be good for her. I wonder. She feels she cannot refuse. I asked her what they would do if she was not available. The matter had not even been discussed. What if you become really ill? That has not been discussed. Non-availability is not an option. Illness is not an option. Retirement is not an option. So why are her children are already planning their retirement?

Sunday 29 November 2009

Do cats paint?

A good many years ago my father bought my mother a rather curious book as her Christmas present. My mother was never as much of a reader as my father or me or the other members of the family so finding a book to suit her often required a little more skill.
That year however he found a book called "Why cats paint." It was a book allegedly about cats as artists. I have never been absolutely certain what to make of the book but, ever since, I have watched cats to see if they exhibit artistic tendencies.
Yesterday it rained. Pluto was crouched in our carport. We have no car so the space is home to my tricycle, Dad's gopher, some timber and one or two other oddments. There is a nice flat concrete surface on which the car, when we had one, used to sit. Pluto was crouched on this surface, tail flicking, apparently watching the rain fall off the roof.
When the rain had stopped he sat for a little longer and then he strolled out onto the wet area, turned and padded in again. After a moment he repeated the exercise twice more. Then he sat apparently looking at the pattern his damp paw prints had made. His tail kept flicking. Eventually he did a wide circle and, with more damp paws, he came back and put another row of paw prints across the end of the other rows. He sat. He appeared to look some more. Then he strolled off, jumped on the fence, walked down the top of the fence and disappeared from view.
What was he doing? Was he "painting"? All his actions appeared to be quite deliberate.
I have no idea what he was doing but I am sure of one thing. Cats observe.

Saturday 28 November 2009

"You're bored?"

There is one of those depressing articles in the paper this morning about 'bored teenagers'. You know the sort of thing I mean. "We're bored. There's nothing to do. You aren't providing us with entertainment."
These sort of articles appear often enough for me to assume that there is some sort of problem - but I am still uncertain just what the actual problem is.
One of the neighbourhood children frequently spends time in our house. She considers it to be one of her local libraries, the source of help with homework (rarely needed) and advice about things she feels she cannot talk to her father about. When your mother has died this is important. This child boards at school Monday to Friday. She does not have a lot of free time but neither is she dragged off to an after-school activity every afternoon of the week. She plays sport at school and participates in other school organised activities. She is not learning an instrument, ballet, gymnastics, little Athletics, swimming, dramatics or any other formal activity. She likes gardening, especially if she can grow something which will be eaten. She likes to cook and can produce a diverse range of simple meals under minimal supervision. She is learning to knit, likes to make all sorts of things out of paper, cardboard and other oddments. She reads voraciously. At weekends she likes to go bike riding with her father. Her computer time is limited and under supervision.
Some people say she must be lonely although she is well liked at school. They tell her father she is missing out on a lot of experiences because she does not do the after school activities that so many other children do.
If she wanted to do any of them her father would try and find a way to do it. She is simply not interested. She has too much to do. If she is not actually doing then she is reading. She rarely watches television and, if she does, she will be doing something else at the same time - or she fidgets.
Recently we were doing a bit of girl shopping together - her father finds it difficult to buy clothes, especially underclothes, for her. We came across one of her school friends, a child who has an activity each afternoon of the week. This child complained she was bored. My young friend looked at her and, without actually saying anything, it was clear she was asking, "You're bored?"
When we had moved on she said to me, "You know I think you can be bored from being told what to do all the time."
That might just be the problem.

Friday 27 November 2009

Can you really read

or do you just see what you want to see on the page?
The 'Tiser printed a letter yesterday. It raised some legitimate questions about the manner in which scientific research is conducted. This morning there was an angry response from another reader. It condemned the writer but made no attempt to address the arguments put forward. We are back to "bad science" or seeing just what you want to see on the page. If the big boys say something is black then it must be black. If the media says it is grey then they are merely stirring up debate to sell the story. If anyone else, even another scientist, says something may be white tinged with grey then they absolutely have to be wrong.
Trying to explain that big issue science is as much about politics and economics as science and that scientific 'facts' may only be theories is not going to make you popular. People want certainty. They do not want to think. People want to be told. They will accept the direst predictions as long as they are presented as cold fact about which there can be no argument. They do not want to be told "maybe". It seems we cannot handle uncertainty.
A friend rang yesterday to say that a mutual elderly friend who lost a breast to cancer some years ago has to go for more tests. Her regular check up found something the doctors do not like the look of. There may be nothing wrong or there may be something very wrong. She has to wait a fortnight - and it is going to seem like a very long fortnight - before the tests and then she will have to wait for the results. We will wait with her and share her uncertainty.
Whatever the outcome the uncertainty will always be there. This may be why we like to have certainty, even false certainty, about issues like climate change or global warming, the threat of terrorism, cholesterol, the drop in education levels, increasing unemployment, the nuclear threat from Iran and North Korea, and the health threat from the consumption of any number of foods and the use of deodorant or some hair shampoos. Even is we go and live a totally natural lifestyle on an island we are in danger from rising sea levels or falling into the ocean as we endeavour to catch a mercury laden fish.
So, can we really read? I have never regretted doing a degree in law. It taught me to read. I am glad I did it after my doctorate. If I had done it before that I might not have done my doctorate because I would have been even more conscious of the uncertainties in what I was doing. Doing it afterwards told me that I did not want to be a lawyer - but then I never had any intention of being one. I needed the degree for other reasons. There was a bonus though. It taught me the value of the lack of certainty - but it is also hard to live with that lack of certainty. Perhaps it is just as well that so many people have never really learned to read. It is much more comfortable to see what you want to see.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Am I allowed to read or am I only supposed to be

learning something or doing something productive?
Nicola Morgan had a little shot at Oxfam for suggesting that giving someone a book token was 'boring'. What Oxfam was, of course, trying to suggest was that giving someone you do not know a goat or gardening tools is more useful. It may or may not be. Giving someone a goat or gardening tools will only be useful if they know how to care for or use these things. These things are only going to happen if someone can 'read' in the widest possible sense of reading.
There is, of course, no point in giving someone a book unless they know how to read or someone can read it to them. Again, this has to be reading in the widest possible terms. Reading is about much more than recognising and making sense of the funny little squiggles on a page or screen. We 'read' constantly in order to make sense of the world around us.
As far as reading in the more traditional sense however I am getting the impression that, in some places, reading for pleasure is considered to be a waste of time. Certainly, reading for pleasure is not something you do at school. At school you read to learn. If you are not reading to learn you should be doing something productive. The same goes for after school activities. You should be doing sport, preferably something competitive and (most definitely) you need to be on the winning team. If you are not doing sport then you should be learning something else, an instrument perhaps. If you are doing that then you should be aiming to pass exams and perform in public. Then there are various youth organisations with levels and badges and challenges. All these things are aimed at doing, at learning, at performing, and at competing. It is all wildly important. "How many after-school activities does little Bobby manage to cram in?" and "Can your parents get a second car so that Jilly can do ballet while Anna does soccer and can you still get off early from work to take Robby to tennis coaching?" Children must not be left unattended for free play. They may waste time. They may not be learning something.
"Television? Oh that is different. They can eat while they watch television. Computer games? Well it is good for reaction times and manual dexterity and, anyway, that's something they all do."
"Read for pleasure? Well, no. It's really a waste of time isn't it? I mean, they aren't learning anything are they? The Harry Potter stuff? Well I suppose that was a bit different, you know the films and all that as well. It was different when I was a kid. We didn't have so much to do."
So, learning and doing are more important than reading a book? We can learn and do without reading? Why would anyone want to read when they could be kicking the winning goal? Isn't life all about kicking the winning goal? We're complete failures unless we manage to kick the winning goal and go on kicking the winning goals.
The problem is that very few of us will ever kick the winning goal - but, if we learn to read, we can be on the winning team .

Wednesday 25 November 2009

The wonders of modern technology allowed me

to tune in to an extra edition of Roger Wright's Music Show on Vintage Radio this morning - at least for a short while. Now this was being broadcast on Merseyside in the UK on Tuesday evening. The time difference meant it was Wednesday morning here. I know, it is ALL TERRIBLY CONFUSING. Just be satisfied I managed to work the technology at all? Thankyou.

Prior to that, Roger had broadcast between 4pm and 5pm on a Thursday afternoon which meant it was the wee sma' hours of Friday morning for us. Those of us interested were (or should have been) asleep. Why does it matter you ask? Why on earth would anyone living in Downunder want to listen to radio programmes broadcast by older, amateur radio fanatics? (Why would anyone want to do a lot of things?)

Well, for a start, Roger sent an e-mail telling me he was going to do this. I felt rather pleased by that. Roger contacted me after his mother, Elinor Lyon, died. I will always regret I never met this wonderful children's author - wonderful because her books were marvellous, straightforward adventure stories peopled by real, believable people. Her children were lucky.

I hardly know Roger but it is apparent he has a wicked sense of humor and he was kind enough to answer questions put to him by a young friend of mine when she wanted answers for a school project. Whatever he thought of my own efforts in adding a sequel to his mother's work for said young friend he was kind enough to keep his thoughts to himself. I rather suspect I would like Roger a lot in real life.

Now, Roger's taste in music and mine differ. That is hardly surprising. I was brought up by cows. Well, not literally brought up by cows but we lived in a dairying district at the point where we could actually get some sort of radio reception. (Prior to that we had intermittent reception which rather depended on things like the weather and the time of day.) It is a fact (not always believed) that cows prefer classical music in the milking shed. The children in the district heard the then modern music of course but they were also familiar with the classics. My parents preferred the classics too. So, we grew up listening to masses of Mozart and (for lighter relief) musicals like My Fair Lady. My more manually dextrous siblings were allowed to learn music so they discovered the set examination pieces, carols, and a book of Irish folk tunes that had been left behind by a previous music teacher. We did not learn a lot about the Beatles or whatever else was around at the time. There were occasional groups, like The Seekers, who came into our consciousness because one of their songs would, suitably modified, become part of the school music programme.

Where is all this leading? Well Roger asked for requests the other day for the extra edition of his programme. I would have had no idea what to request. My young friend however knew immediately what she wanted - or rather what she would like Roger to play for her father. It was a song by a group I could not have named to save my life but I could actually remember hearing it. My father could remember it too just as her father (who is ten years younger than me) could remember it. Do you remember "Lily the Pink"?

Roger was kind enough to include it in the programme. Thankyou Roger. I could not listen to the entire programme but I listened to part of it. It felt strange to hear someone I virtually 'know', but also do not actually know, speak. It felt strange to hear a song from a time when I was not much older than my young friend. I wonder what it will be like for her when she is my age. What will modern technology be like then? What will music be like? Will there be a Lily the Pink to save the human race?

Tuesday 24 November 2009

When the whole thing first blew up

there was a flurry of media interest. There is plenty of verbal stoushing but not a lot of physical violence involved in Australian politics. Nevertheless the Premier was allegedly attacked with a rolled up magazine. The police were called in. Someone was arrested and the saga has limped along in the media ever since - until the Clintonesque type sex-in-the-office allegations began to surface and the Clintonesque type denials were made.
I am bored with the whole affair but it does raise some interesting questions about politics and the media.
Journalists, like everyone else, have political views. One of the thngs that can lead people into journalism are strong views about issues. That is a problem. It means the rest of us are getting views, not news.
I think it would be fair to say that, recently, our media has been more about views than news. Our Premier was once a journalist himself. (This may go some way to proving my point about views not news.) He knows how the media works. He knows how to control the slippery slime that pretends to be steel hard facts. The Premier has been working this slime for nine years with barely a slip until now. It means we have not had an effective opposition.
The same thing is occurring in Federal politics, although the tactic there is a little different. If you want to be part of the Parliamentary Press Gallery then you will learn the approved lines and deliver them. The Prime Minister does not tolerate dissent or criticism but appears to allow a little of both - in order to avoid them. He has line-walking down to a fine art. He is, after all, the world's greatest diplomat. He is going to single handedly save the world by presenting the Australian government's ETS (emissions trading scheme) to everyone in Copenhagen. That Copenhagen's climate change negotiations conference is really about raising money in order to keep an effectively bankrupt United Nations from completely collapsing is another story altogether - not one we are allowed to know about.
I wonder where the media is headed. I wonder where freedom of speech is headed. Perhaps that is why blogging is important. There must be blogs out there that will tell me things. I just have to find them.

Monday 23 November 2009

"Blogging should be banned.

It is selfish and self indulgent. It clutters up the internet and allows idiots like you to make downright stupid and dangerous remarks about things you know nothing about."

Oh. I suppose it had to happen sometime. Someone does not like my blog. There are probably a lot of people who do not like my blog. They pass me by. That's their right. Nobody said you had to read my ramblings. Not many people do. I do not write "Help I need a publisher" or "How publishing really works" or even the occasional ramblings from the Fidra crew (It is Vanessa's fault that I have a blog and she does not even bother to read it.) I do read a few blogs that do not appear on my list. They would appear on my list if I could work out how to make them appear. I am not technologically minded.
Nicola Morgan says you should write for the reader. Well, yes if you want to be published by someone else. Perhaps that is the problem with blogs. You publish yourself. You can say what you like. But, I am conscious that someone else might read it, anyone at all. I try to be responsible.
There are things I do not bother to talk about. I could turn it into a "life with a disability" blog but, why bother? I would not find that interesting or challenging. I imagine there are plenty of those out there but I have never bothered to look. I don't bother with most of what I am reading. There are plenty of people who do that better than I will ever be able to do it. I do not bother with what we eat or drink or what I am knitting or...well, most things. I do not talk about certain of my friends, particularly my young friends. That's a safety issue. I know one of them reads this. She keeps me up to mark but, on the whole, she does not wish to see herself here.
Mm...well then what do I blog about?
Do I need a focus for my blog? Should I stop rambling on? Should I start to blog about a specific topic? Should I stop blogging about things that interest me? Am I being madly selfish and self indulgent?
The problem is that I am getting rather addicted to this little challenge. Now, what can I blog about this morning? What happened yesterday that someone might find interesting? What happened that I want to remember? How did I feel about it? Is is possible to make someone else feel a similar way? Can I make someone purr with pleasure or can I give them something to think about? Should I get political? Where am I going with this thing? A year is coming up fast. I gave myself a year. Should I stop at the end of it?
Hmmm...blogging should be banned? No, I do not agree with that. I have made new cyber-friends. I think I would like them in real life as well.
Blogging is selfish and self-indulgent? Well, it could be but, when I write something, I like to try and give a potential a reader a picture or an idea. I want to give them something to enjoy or to think about.
It clutters up the internet? A lot of things clutter up the internet. The internet is one big advertising screen most of which is to be avoided by the likes of me. The Blogosphere is a minute part of the internet but probably the most interesting part.
It allows idiotic people like me to make downright stupid and dangerous remarks about things we know nothing about? I try not to make stupid and dangerous remarks about things I know nothing about. I actually try not to make stupid and dangerous remarks. I try not to present my thoughts as fact. Perhaps I should be more controversial? No, that could spread more than cat hairs across the blog. I don't mind cat hairs. I do not want blood.
Hmmm....I think the speaker disagrees with my politics. I happen to know he is a radical left-winger. He is a member of the left leaning politicial party in Australia and, even within that, he is regarded as left of left. If he is not careful he may get left behind.
If you have reached this point, please leave a cat hair. I think I am going somewhere but I need to know where I am going.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Look! I did it!

Wednesday was far too hot to work in the shed so young Sam and his sister missed out on their craft session with my father. They look forward to these once a fortnight sessions and so does he. Could they come Saturday instead? Giving up a Saturday afternoon to 'work' in the shed is no hardship at all. They can concentrate for two hours out there without difficulty. They are doing things.
Sam has been making a simple wooden plane. He has managed to learn quite a lot in the process. He is only six but he can hammer and nail and glue with the best of them despite being small and not having the best of eyesight. Yesterday he managed to learn to use my father's electronic calipers. He measured every small thing in sight while his sister and her mother went on making the wooden step-stool. (This will let the children stand safely at the sink and learn to cook.) Sam had to peer carefully at the little screen and I could hear him muttering away to himself. He is not a child who smiles very often but he seemed content.

When it came around to Sam's turn for help again they finished the plane. It was almost there last time. Then it was done. I was there at the precise moment. He looked up. He blinked and pushed his glasses up his nose again. He looked at the plane and back at all of us.
Very carefully he removes the plane from the bench and looks up at my father,
"Can we go and try it?"
The two of them go off to our small patch of lawn at the front of the house. They try. They make some minor adjustments and try again. More adjustments. Sam is looking a little anxious by now. Will it fly? My father shows him again. Then the plane leaves Sam's hand. It glides beautifully, smoothly. It goes almost three metres before landing quite gently on the grass. Sam runs over and picks it up as carefully as if it is a new born infant. His face creases into a grin that looks as if it will never end. "Look! I did it!"

Saturday 21 November 2009

I have spent the past week battling

the common cold. I rarely get such things. I do not make a good patient. I am impatient. I have endured the sneezing, the headache, the stuffy nose etc - and I am still enduring the coughing. No, I do not have whooping cough. I merely have a rotten cold with a touch of bronchitis. It somehow feels worse in the heat.
"Go to the doctor" I am told. Why? The doctor would tell me to go away and stop spreading my germ laden paws over humans. Antibiotics would not solve the problem. My doctor avoids prescribing antibiotics wherever possible anyway.
I know I will recover - although I wish I felt a little more energetic right now. Yes, I told you, I am impatient. I do not make a good patient.
But, there has to be an up side to all of this. Well yes. Work has hit a fairly quiet period. I spent part of yesterday afternoon lying on the bed with book in hand. I almost fell asleep. A siesta? I could get used to the idea.

Friday 20 November 2009

I am back to trying to catch fish today.

At least I think writing is a little like fishing, real fishing. It requires quiet contemplation and watchfulness. There is no sense in just sitting there staring at the line and thinking you are going to catch a fish. You have to know where to fish or where to look for the words. You have to use the right line, the right hook and the right bait. You need to be alert all the time, to watch the line for twitches and words. Sometimes you need to be ready to pounce with a paw. Getting wet is an uncomfortable process for a cat but it cannot be avoided. Writing is an uncomfortable process.
No, I am not going to give up but I do wonder why I devoted eight lives almost solely to catching mice. Ridding the world of mice is a good thing you say? Purrhaps, but it is a housework sort of job. Nobody notices unless you do not do it.
I do have new ideas for bait and lines but I understand I will still need to get my paws wet. I might even need to dive right in. That's all right. Cats can swim even if we do not like getting wet. Getting wet is better than having fur balls.

Thursday 19 November 2009

I think I live in the wrong place Ms Morgan.

I live Downunder. It is not something I am particularly comfortable about. I know it is supposed to be comfortable. The lifestyle is supposed to be good - and safe. It never gets terribly cold in winter although it gets damned hot in summer. (We are looking at 43'C today and this is only November. ) I hate heat. I live here because I was born here and "a series of unfortunate events" mean I am stuck here. At the moment I have no choice. By the time I do have a choice I will probably have used up my nine lives.
I do not hate where I live but I feel no strong attachment to the place. I do not write about it. I cannot write "Australiana". I could not write a novel set in Australia. There is no reason why I should - except that, I am told, I will never get published unless I do. I will never get an agent unless I first write about Australia. I will never get an agent because I am too old. I will never get an agent because I live in the wrong place. No publisher will look at me because I do not write about Australia. I am expected to write about Australia because it is where I live. It is supposed to be the place I know most about. It is what you are supposed to write about. I do not. I will not because I cannot.
So, this is just an excuse you say? You are not published because you are not good enough! If you had been really serious about this writing thing you would have done a lot more writing years ago. You would have been sending your work off and you would have kept sending it off and sending it off and sending it off. You would have papered the house in rejection slips - never mind that, up until recently, you spent most of your life living in a single room. It is all just excuses. The reality is that you cannot write. You will never write anything good enough to be published. Get used to the idea. Just enjoy the blog. It does not matter if nobody else reads it. Just have a bit of fun. Forget the hellish expense of sending a hard copy of a manuscript overseas. Forget that agents and publishers simply ignore polite, quiet well ordered purring pleas for, at very least, an acknowledgment of the receipt of my carefully ordered cat hair?
So, it's all my fault? I don't have talent? I can't write? I am expected to accept never getting a paw in the door?
I know agents are not charities. I do not want them to be charities. I want them to be a business but (yes there is a but Ms Morgan) agents also have responsibilities. Far too many of them only want big names. They want big profits for minimum effort and outlay. It is understandable but it is not helpful. Many agents will not even consider new writers. They only want established writers. Many publishers will not consider new authors, especially new authors who come to them without the benefit of an agent. It is a question often posed (in many ways) at Writers' Weeks in Adelaide, "How do you get an agent? How do you get someone to look at what you have written when you are a first time author? How do you, even after you have obeyed all the rules laid down by successful authors, agents and publishers, get someone to actually look?" The answer is, you do not. There is no way you can do it. It is sheer good luck if it happens. Hard work and imagination are the essential ingredients of the writing equation. Publication is a different story. There is nothing that can guarantee that. It comes down to luck.
Now, give me a good reason why my tail should not droop. Tell me why I should not have the right to feel like not purring about agents and publishers? Profit before impractical purrsonality? I think I understand...but I still have every right to find it depressing.
Miaou...I may go back to being human tomorrow...if I can be bothered.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Where are my pegs?

It is a simple enough question surely? Where are those itty-bitty little things that attach the washing to the line?
I have a problem with pegs. They keep disappearing. The latest lot appear to be attaching the netting to the apricot and peach trees. I add 'pegs' to my mental shopping list.
At least I have managed to work out their whereabouts. I imagine them with a life of their own, strutting stiffly off and attaching themselves to net and tree.
It is going to be more difficult with the books that Dad's brother wished on us some years ago. Yesterday, having given them to us back then, he demanded their return - immediately. Where are my books? The letter he sent was confused and rambling but also clear enough for us to recognise that he can remember some of the books he passed over to us. He cannot see these books well enough to read them. The pictures would be nothing more than a vague blur on the page, if that. He wants them back. He did not give them to us. Books are old friends. Why would he give them away? The letter takes up an entire typed page. Where are my books? Someone else has had to type it for him. Goodness' knows what they think if he is in one of his apparently more rational moments. I suspect he has been pacing the house all night. Where are my books? Where are my books? He is irrational and not himself because of the frontal lobe damage inflicted by the strokes. We know that but it is hard for my father. His brother is younger than he is.
Most of the books have been sitting on my father's bedroom floor for the past few years. They have been piled waist high in the corner waiting for just such an occurrence. We half suspected something of this sort might happen. The problem is that some of the books mentioned are not books that we have. We have never had them. They are undoubtedly books that my uncle owns or has owned in the past. He does remember that sort of thing. He will accuse us of stealing them. He will threaten legal action and may even try to take it even though others will try to dissuade him.
His books do not, on the whole, interest me. Even when he was rational his taste in literature and mine were wildly divergent. I can, in a dim reaching, understand something of his feeling of loss. It is, I suspect, not so much those books and those contents but the fact that books and their contents are now beyond him. Even when we give him the books he gave us he is going to ask, "Where are my books?"

Tuesday 17 November 2009

It is 'hard rubbish' week

but what is 'hard rubbish'? Officially it is what you want to get rid of which is too large for the wheelie bin or must not be put in the recycle wheelie bin or in the green wheelie bin. (Yes, we have three bins these days.)
We do not use our green wheelie bin a lot. Most of our green stuff gets recycled inside the garden. My father has even been known to ask the lawn mower men for additional grass clippings. Our recycle bin is mainly a depository for news papers and the occasional bottle. Our other bin goes out most weeks and contains an odd assortment of the sort of detritus collected by most households.
None of this counts as hard rubbish. That's the big stuff. Dad had a little bit, like the old guttering and a couple of lengths of timber that had gone rotten and our old microwave oven. None of it is of any conceivable use to anyone else as it is now. The metal men may make something of the oven. The guttering is too rusty for them to be interested in it. It is our smaller contribution to global pollution. We try not to make it too large.
It is however always interesting to see what other people put out for the hard rubbish collection.
I observed the piles as I rode past on my way to the post office yesterday. There are the inevitable dining chairs, chests of drawers, computer desks, beds and mattresses, all in varying states of disrepair. There are old toys, particularly wheeled plastic toys and paddling pools shaped like shells. There are half used cans of paints, plastic buckets that once held rose fertiliser, two lounge suites, three recliner chairs, half a dozen canvas chairs, a kitchen table with three legs propped up by five boxes of National Geographic magazines. There are old garden tooks, more guttering, some old blinds, some broken polystyrene boxes filled with tins and jars and broken cane baskets. There is a roll of carpet and some sheets of roofing iron. Next to that there is a metre high stack of plastic icecream containers - all empty of course. There is an old dog kennel. I knew the dog. He died almost two years ago.
I continue on observing and thinking, "Yes, that could be repaired" and "Someone could use that." I see one of the locals who raises several hundred plants for the hospital fete each year. He is collecting unwanted plastic pots to recycle. He shakes his head and says, "What a waste Cat!"
I have to agree.
On my return. I notice a car with a trailer on behind. They are trawling the streets for anything they can use. It is not legal but it happens. I am not going to prevent recycling.
There is a rabbit hutch sitting outside one house. It looks new. I check to make sure there is no rabbit in it. People will discard anything.

Monday 16 November 2009

An open market?

Alexander Downer was on the books bandwagon in his column today. His family are readers. He is currently based in Cyprus and has, naturally, sussed out the English language bookshop there. I would have thought that English language books in Cyprus would be more expensive than they are here in Australia. Wrong. They are cheaper.
Something will have to change. Alexander mentions Amazon and Kindle and other electronic possibilities. I have a sneaking feeling we will both always prefer 'real' books, paper and print books that take up endless rows of bookshelf and provide the only worthwhile sort of interior decoration. I have yet to work out how they can have three or four electronic books open at once with a hedgehog of markers at the relevant pages. When I am working that is common place.
That, however, will be the least of my problems if the information is simply not going to be available because, sooner or later, it seems to me there will have to be other sorts of import restrictions placed on us. The government will have to set in place a means to make us pay more for the cheaper overseas books. If they do not then there is no point in leaving the restrictions in place. They will simply be encouraging money to go off-shore.
I went back to the list given to me by the local independent bookshop. I understand their concern. I also know that, given the choice between buying a book for $15 and for $50 then most people will pay $15. They will still expect the indie bookshop to be there but they will not be prepared to pay $50 when they could pay $15.
There have to be answers. Do we reduce the capacity of supermarkets to sell books? They sell a limited range now. Do they really need to sell any at all? Do we institute some sort of central buying authority the way they do for public libraries? That would allow the government to keep what we are able to read in check as well. Hmmm, that might appeal to the likes of Kevin and his cronies.... Do we ask government to do more as a patron of the arts?
There are all sorts of questions and as many answers as there are questions. There is however something that we all first need to consider. If we want to 'save Australian publishing' then we have to have something worth saving. I rather suspect that might be the problem.

Sunday 15 November 2009

One minute past

eleven o'clock in the evening so the 'plane has to turn around. It cannot land in Adelaide. We have a curfew at the airport. It is designed to allow the citizens who live around the airport to sleep - or so they say. Last week a plane would have landed, quite literally at one minute past eleven. It had already begun the descent into Adelaide. It was coming from Sydney - where there is a similar curfew in place. It was delayed in Sydney. The pilot was under instructions to make up time but was unable to do it. They had to turn back and go to Canberra. The passengers had to be found accommodation for the night. It was all terribly expensive - and quite possibly dangerous as the crew was at the end of shift and, no doubt, tired.
Then there is the water issue. We have water restrictions. There are a few precious hours each week for watering your garden. You may not water outside those hours. If you cannot water inside those hours and you cannot find someone else to do it for you then you may not water at all. Full stop. There is no provision at all for shift workers, those who must be away, those who always work that day of the week etc. You may not water.
People do of course and, unlike the airport issue, their neighbours largely ignore the fact because they do the same thing themselves.
What is needed is a little flexibility on the part of authority. It should not be beyond the powers of a government body to make provision for such circumstances. If there is a chance that the plane will not make it in time do not allow it to take off - or allow it to land a minute late. Do not divert the passengers at enormous expense to everyone. If someone needs to work shifts adjust the watering time for them and issue a statement. If someone needs to be away over their watering period then issue a statement allowing a different day or time.
This is the 21st century, not the first. We should be able to handle such events with ease. Instead we have bureaucracy gone mad and the little grrnomes in the system apparently enjoying the power to effect maximum disruption.
So, we come to the "request" for information in our letter box. Everyone seems to have one. Ours was mis-delivered so it did not come until yesterday when, presumably, the person in the unit with our street number realised we needed to have it. We will be fined if we do not respond by a certain date. It is about the need for more 'flexibility' with respect to services delivered.

Saturday 14 November 2009

There is no end in sight

to the unseasonable heat wave. Despite temperatures of more than 35'C forecast for another week the government has not eased watering restrictions either. They could have done this on a temporary basis. It probably would have saved a lot of water. People would be more likely to obey the rules if the watering restrictions were adequate for keeping a garden alive. As it is we now have a situation where more than half the population openly flout the restrictions - and the other half do not have gardens.
We have rainwater tanks. We have multiple rainwater tanks. My father has heavily mulched the things that matter in an effort to keep things alive and adds targetted buckets of rainwater to things. He is up by six in the mornings. As he is not a particularly early riser this is something of a penance for him. He says it is his task to keep things watered and so does it early in the morning and in the evening. It needs both if things are to survive. Tomorrow is our official watering day. I will stand out there for more than an hour watering our small patch of lawn with the dribble of water we are allowed. The lawn is an air conditioner of sorts. It is degrees cooler standing on the lawn first thing in the morning.
We also have the glory vine growing down one side of the house. We do not know how the vine came to be there. We did not plant it. Somehow it just appeared. It took root. It expanded. We never water it but it seems to survive. We have trained it so that it forms a cooler green canopy over the windows in summer. It helps to cut down on the amount we need to use our ageing reverse cycle air conditioning unit.
The Weather Bureau's spokesman was interviewed last night. He says that the heatwave has nothing to do with climate change. It is just a cycle of hot weather. It could last six or eight weeks.
The cllimate change gurus say that there will be climate change refugees. Long before that happens I am going to need to be a hot weather refugee. Is it a reason to seek asylum? Where can I go?
I think I had better pedal off to the greengrocer and get some bananas before they go brown in the heat.

Friday 13 November 2009

So, where was the water?

Now there is stupidity and there is criminal stupidity. We are having a heat wave. The temperatures have been hovering in the high 30's C all week and it is likely to continue well into next week. (For those of you used to the old style of temperature reading this is hovering around 100'F.) Yes, I complained about the heat before. I am not a hot weather person. I hate the heat. I am going to be a climate change refugee. I can just see that.
But, I had to go out yesterday. Things still need to be done. Oldies need to be checked on. People are absent from their homes and need mail taken in. Animals need water bowls filled. I share the responsibility for these things in an effort to be a good neighbour. This is how I happened to be out at a time to see two women working their way down a neighbouring street. They have two small children with them - and Bibles. They have hats - and religious literature. The children are aged about two and four. They are silent. They look heat stressed, frightened and cowed.
These people are out in 37'C heat and they do not have water.
They come out of one gate and move towards the next one. I know the man standing there at his letter box. I also know, from past conversation, what he will be thinking so I ride up calling out, "Kalimera..." and ask him how he is in Greek. The women stop. I say, "It's no good talking to him. He doesn't speak English. What is more...." and I let them know about the dangers of taking two small children out without water in that heat.
They look at one another. They say nothing to me.
"I report you," my "Greek" friend says in a passable imitation of the Greek accent of his neighbour. They move off more quickly than before. They do not go into the next house. There is a car in the sun further along the street. They get into it. My "Greek" friend is taking note of the number.
"I will report them too," he tells me, "And I will report both of us to Spiro as well." He manages a smile as he waves his hand at the Greek neighbour's house. I will leave it up to him.
I ride on wondering about what sort of deity demands you endanger the lives of young children by taking them out into the heat without water. How much does it cost to save a soul?

Thursday 12 November 2009

Our High Court has ruled

we are responsible for our own actions - perhaps.

The news media was full of it. An inebriated man demanded the return of his motorcycle keys from a publican then rode off and killed himself. The publican was initially held responsible but the High Court overturned the ruling.

On the surface this is a commonsense decision but it has been widely criticised. Drug and alcohol groups claimed that publicans had a duty of care. Others claimed that the motor cycle rider could not be held responsible for his own actions because he was not capable of making a decison. It comes as no surprise. Australians have a dangerous love affair with alcohol. They most certainly do not want to acknowledge that the national pastime of alcohol consumption could be dangerous.
Then, on the ABC news, one of my old law professors was to be seen stating that the facts of the case were so specific it probably did not set any precedents at all. I will assume the law professor knows what he is talking about. He supervised my honours thesis and still managed to retain a sense of humour.
I happen to be allergic to alcohol. I get a nasty rash if I consume it. I avoid it. As I do not like the taste of the little I have tried I do not feel I am missing anything although there are plenty of people who will tell me otherwise. If those same people wish to drink then that is their decision - provided that their consumption of alcohol does not affect me or others. How you get people whose decision making ability has been affected by the consumption of alcohol to make responsible decisions is beyond me. Asking others, such as publicans, to be responsible is almost certainly just as difficult.
The real problem is the love affair with alcohol, the belief that it is an essential part of a meal at a restaurant, that having a good time with mates involves a beer or two or three or eight or more.
It is claimed there would be enormous financial implications if the alcohol limit was to be reduced still further. There are financial implications anyway. Each alcohol related death on the roads costs the taxpayer the minimum of a million dollars - and it is often more. That figure does not include permanant injuries. Having seen the end result of alcohol related injuries to the drinkers themselves and to others who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I would reduce the alcohol limit to 0.01. That would allow for certain medications and perhaps one glass of wine over the entire course of a long meal. It is not much but it is not much to spend the rest of your life brain damaged either.
But I have no doubt that yesterday the legislators of this country were looking at ways to ensure that those who choose to drink will not be held responsible for their own actions. It is part of our national culture. We have to find someone else to blame, someone else to take the responsibility, someone else who can pay out damages for our stupidity.
I really rather resent having to pay for other people's stupidity. If my old law professor is correct then the High Court did not go far enough.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Just because you believe something

does not make it right. I think I must be wrong a great deal of the time. Why? People keep arguing with me. They tell me I am wrong.
Take yesterday and that 'phone call. There were the dreaded words spoken with such enthusiasm, "Cat, we are going to have a meeting. You have to come." I do? I listen. After, almost thirty years there is still intense enthusiasm for "the cause".
"The cause" in this case is the deinstitutionalisation of the mentally ill. The voice at the other end of the 'phone fervently believes that no person with a mental illness should ever be institutionalised. "Care in the community" is her mantra. Nothing else will do.
I have to move carefully here. We are not on the same side of the fence. I believe there is a place for institutions. By that I do not mean there is a place for the old type of regimented institution which did not provide for individuality or personal space and did provide far too many opportunities for abuse. Unfortunately my caller believes that all institutions are like that and that no institution can ever replace "care in the community". She is right and I am wrong. I must be wrong. How could I possibly be right? She has invested thirty years of her life in this cause, ever since her twin sister committed suicide inside an institution.
I do understand 'where she is coming from'. Nothing else matters to her. Nothing is going to change her beliefs or her opinions. She is like the most fundamental religious fanatic. She is highly articulate.
Politicians listen to her. They listen because it is a mesage they want to hear. "Care in the community" is the cheap option. All too often the mentally ill are incapable of speaking for themselves. That means it is easy to keep services to a minimum. If they are mad but not bad then let them wander the streets. It is cheaper and, hey, we are doing what people want. We are keeping people out of institutions.
I want to tell my caller that I believe there are people who need to be institutionalised. They will feel safer and more secure in a place they can call their own, where someone else makes the decisions they find so frightening and encourages them to make decisions about the little things - like which t-shirt to wear today. They will feel they have achieved something if they produce a piece of artwork or plant a seedling or manage to actually voluntarily say something.
One of the local 'residences' which provides 'care in the community' sends the six residents out at eight in the morning and tells them to return at five in the afternoon. After that they are not supposed to go out until eight the following morning. It is their home but they cannot stay in the residence during the day.
Currently we are having a spell of very, very hot weather. One of the residents is incapable of buying as much as a drink. His mental illness is such that he will not go into a shop. The little money in his pocket means nothing to him. He does not understand what it is for. One of the other residents watches out for him after her own fashion. She will silently get two large bottles of soft drink in the supermarket, one for him and one for herself. They spend the rest of the day sitting in the same spot in the park. When one of the local businesses closes at five o'clock they know it is time to go 'home'. This is 'care in the community'. Now, I may be wrong, but I believe that an 'institution' with air-conditioning and activities is preferable.
Yesterday the girl was not there. The boy was on his own in the park. He did not have anything with him, not even water. "Time to get a drink" I told him. He looked blankly at me. "It is hot. You will need a drink." He followed me. I bought a bottle of the brand he seems to prefer. He understood enough to hand me some money. I gave him the bottle and the ten cents change and he went off without a backward look. I have no idea whether he understood or not. This morning I have just seen both of them walking off for another long day in the park.
It is not my responsibility - and yet it is.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Why do we need 'big'?

What is wrong with small?
The Rudd government has just announced plans for super-size health clinics to be rolled out across the country. Now, instead of going to see your GP, you can go to a super-size health clinic. You can see someone who will be able to deal with your particular problem immediately. You will be able to save time. You will get better faster. Perhaps.
I have a view of an endless lne of assorted ill people being fed into a machine. All sorts of unspeakable things happen inside the machine. At the other end you are unceremoniously dropped out. If you bounce you survive. A few who do not bounce might crawl away. Cats like myself will need more than nine lives to survive the first round.
I get on well with my GP. I am, touch wood, fortunate enough not to need him too often. He is empathetic. He also has a sense of humour - much needed. He assumes I am intelligent enough to understand what he is telling me.He works in a clinic with seven other doctors but the place has more of a family feel. He does not mind asking for help when he needs it.
I happened to be there at the same time as my sister's Greek mother in law. As she gets older Panayoita speaks less and less English. It was never good and it is rapidly getting much worse. She was upset, very upset. Her doctor, someone else I know, was not available so she had to see mine. He could not understand her. He knew I was next on the list. He knew we knew one another. He put his head out to see if I was there. I went in and helped Panayoita explain the problem. I do not speak Greek but I am used to her English and I can adjust mine so that she can understand.
Would that happen in a super-size clinic? There might be someone who speaks Greek but there might not too. As it was my GP's knowledge of his own patients meant he was able to help. It made his day a little less stressful.
This morning there is an announcement for another super-size school. This is a cradle to school leaving affair on the northern outskirts of the city. The state government is setting up more of these. The idea is that you will get all your schooling in one place. You arrive at six weeks of age (so your mother can go back to work) and stay until you finish year twelve. You will be processed. There will be thousands rather than hundreds of students. The school will have 'facilities'. I am sure they will be good facilities.
I went to much smaller schools, the smallest had just 46. We did not have facilities. We did have a lot of individual attention. I skipped a year, so did the bank manager's son. We had to do a lot of work on our own while my father taught the junior grades. There was an expectation that we would get our set work done, that we would help the younger students, and that we would be self-reliant in the things that mattered. We all knew one another.
I do not see super-size working this way. I like knowing that my GP knows me. I like knowing that he cared enough about Panayoita to ask me to help. I feel safer when we all know each other.
Will super-size let us know each other?

Monday 9 November 2009

There was a cartoon in our state newspaper

some years ago showing a small man huddled over the fires of hell and shivering violently. Two more men were in the distance. One was saying to the other, "Where does he come from?" The answer was "South Australia. It gets really hot there."
It will be that sort of week. The forecast is for even hotter weather each time I look. It is currently forecast to be a mere 39'C for two days this week. (Over 100'C for you lucky northerners heading into winter.)
I detest the heat. I do not like summer. I did not like summer as a child. I like it even less as an adult. If I could move to a cooler climate I would. This last winter was so warm that winter woollens barely got a look in. I was not happy cat.
It is not just that knitting is my hobby. (No, writing is not a hobby. It is a compulsion. There IS a difference.) It is a matter of my physical comfort zone. If climate change exists then I am going to need to be a climate change refugee. I will swap with someone who loves the heat. I want it to be cool enough to sleep at night.
I now have something to keep me amused in the 'wee sma' hours' of the morning for a few nights at least. Yesterday I was sent a link from someone I know. He has retired from his position as a Professor of Spanish at Liverpool University in the UK and begun a second part-time career as a disc jockey on Vintage Radio. He is heading up Roger Wright's Music Show on three Thursdays in November. Check out the times for your part of the world at: and let him know what you think of it.
Yesterday? Ah yesterday was good. The air conditioning in the craft fair pavilion managed to cope despite the heat. Yarn was bought. I handed out, hopefully, useful advice. I have a design commission from both yarn stall holders. Now, if it would just cool down enough to knit....

Sunday 8 November 2009

Yesterday,because of the train timetable,

I had a choice between being very early or very late. I decided on early. I will do early again today.
I was well rewarded for earliness yesterday. It meant I could take a little time out and look at some of the stunning quilts...and that meant I met the Virtual Quilter, a very nice person who reads my ramblings. We had a chat before I prowled back and decided we had way too many people on our stall.
There is a psychological barrier if there are too many people there. If there are five or six people sitting there knitting away and talking to each other then show goers will hesitate to come and look or ask questions - and that is what we are supposed to be there for. I decided to be more useful elsewhere and took myself and the camelhair beret I had almost finished off eleswhere. The yarn stall holder working on her own greeted me with relief and we worked happily together. I would not want to do it for a living but a couple of days of helping people with yarns and patterns has been interesting. I am learning a lot from this so, in one sense, it has been quite selfish!
I also met some more interesting people. "You're the one who writes to the papers" is much less fun than meeting a nine year old boy who knits his own socks! (He is also learning to cook and sew - and manages to play football and cricket and 'reads lots'.) There were also young Japanese twins, one knits and the other embroiders, who had us in fits of laughter. Mid-afternoon a woman who spoke only a few words of English arrived. She looked very nervous. I listened carefully and, taking a guess, tried my few words in what I hoped was the right language. Her face lit up and we muddled through a large sale. She hugged me as she left.
Knitting speaks all languages.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Is there a pattern for it?

We are looking at a plain garter stitch scarf. You cast on 10 sts and then you just - knit. Nothing else. But some people still need a pattern. The scarf looks different because of the yarn. It is made out of rainbow coloured yarn that looks like rope.
Remember when you made yards and yards (now metres and metres) of 'snake' or 'rope' or something like that at school. You did it with a wooden cotton reel (now sadly not to be found except in an opportunity shop which does not realise the value of such things). There were four nails in the top. You wound the yarn round each nail and then pulled the loop underneath that yarn over the top to make each stitch. That was done with a bobby pin (hair grip) and it was all painfully slow. It is called, depending on where you live, French knitting, tomboy stitch, i-cord (and sometimes idiot cord) and sometimes it is done with a "knitting Nancy". There are now little machines that will do it - I believe the Barbie doll people once put one out and there have been other versions since. They are designed to drive parents mad - what do you do with the long lines produced. Why on earth would they actually manufacture the wretched stuff ? It is not cheap.
Well, you knit it. There is the scarf. It is proof. There is also a vest. You could knit that in an evening too. I am not sure they are practical or comfortable but it is fashion and who said fashion was comfortable? So, the buyer needs a pattern. I dictate it to her on the spot. "You cast on ten stitches. You knit each row. When you get to the end of the yarn you cast off. You need to use these needles (20mm for those of you who are technically minded) and make sure you keep the edge stitches straight by giving it a gentle tug like this." I demonstrate. The knitter smiles, pays my fellow conspirator, and heads off saying to her friend, "I'd never be able to write a pattern like that."
It makes me wonder about patterns rather than the person. Is there an unnecessary mystique about these things? There are lace patterns of immense complexity - tablecloths where no two pattern rounds are the same. They deserve to be revered. I doubt I could contemplate creating one. Many patterns, while a little more complex than the 'pattern' I gave the knitter, are really not complicated at all. The language is a little different but so is the language of many instructions - not to mention the difference between English (also used in Australia) instructions and American instructions and differences in knitting styles English vs Continental etc.
Oh, no wonder some people are confused and we all need instructions for some things. I am not going to laugh at that knitter. She is knitting. She is going to make something. She will be able to say. "I made it." That is what matters.

Friday 6 November 2009

Yes, I will get there!

Yesterday was a mad rush from start to finish. We had plenty of helpers on our display at the craft fair so I found myself 'running' between the two stalls selling yarn. Like most cats I am more than happy to play with yarn so this was no real hardship.
It is a good feeling to actually be able to help someone. I feel no pressure to sell them anything. The stall holders do not expect me to do that. They just like me to purr nicely and answer questions.
I did not get much knitting done but I did not expect to. I have to start thinking about what to do with 500m of lace weight linen. It looks interesting but I do not think it will be an easy knit. Now what would you do with it?

Thursday 5 November 2009

There was a small label stuck to me

and I am not sure how it came to be there. I probably brushed against something yesterday when we were setting up our display at the Craft Fair. (I have to say that this one looks much more professional than previous efforts.)
The label was about 5cm x 1cm and said, "Do not scan the barcodes." That sounded strange to me. Barcodes generally do get scanned. Isn't that the whole point of a barcode? I do not know enough about barcodes. What I did have however was a sudden image of myself, all lined up and ready to be scanned. It was a rather alarming idea.
Now, you have your blog post for the day. It is short. I am heading off to acquaint myself with the two stalls selling yarn so that I can give their owners the necessary 'pit-stops' and perhaps persuade people that knitting is a GOOD thing and not something only done by little old ladies in nursing homes. (We have a male on duty. He is young and makes the most amazing there.)

Wednesday 4 November 2009

I am going to spend the next few days

teaching about knitting, not teaching knitting but teaching about knitting. There is a difference. I am not going to be running a workshop aimed at teaching specific skills. I am going to answer questions about knitting. I am going to inform people about knitting. I will answer specific queries if I can. I will, to the best of my ability, help people read a pattern and translate it into action.
Knitting is a visible process. Actually putting words on paper (or screen) is also a visible process. Something says they should be alike. They are not and they are.
There appear to be certain rules for knitting. I say 'appear to be' because, like all rules, they can be broken. It takes enormous confidence to break knitting 'rules'. The majority of knitters tend to buy yarn and needles and a pattern and follow it. They are the 'readers' of knitting. The 'borrowers' in library terms. They do not 'write'. Some knitters are only able to perceive the pattern in the colour it is presented in. If they do not like the colour they will not like the garment. They will even believe that it 'must' be made in that colour. Others will be able to translate a single colour. It takes more confidence to translate multiple colours.
There will be others who will cautiously set out on a journey to make something their own. They will write a new rib of words for themselves or put in a new rhythm of stitches around a yoke. They will look for a new yarn to retell an old story. There will be results, good results and very good results.
Excellence in knitting is something else. It is a new story or an old one told in such a way that it cannot immediately be recognised for what it is. It will catch the eye and the mind. It may be challenging to wear or use but it will be worn or used. It will have a knitter-writer and a knitter-reader. It will be like the very best writing and not like writing at all.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

I was given a small box yesterday.

It was filled with some of the letters that I have written to the press over the past few years. I am sometimes asked if I am related to 'the person who writes to the papers'. Other people know I do and will even introduce me as such. There is, almost invariably, an assumption that, because I use my initials, I am male.
It is a curious assumption. I know a number of females who use their initials. There is nothing sinister about this. We are not trying to hide our sex or pretending to be something we are not. It just happens to be the way we sign our names.
There are also other curious reactions to my letter writing activity. "Oh, I don't know how you do it" and "I sometimes think I should" and "I couldn't be bothered" and "How do you get so many letters published?" (Answer to the last one, keep them short and to the point. I might get an occasional longer letter in but only because the editorial staff know my name.) More amusing however is the, "Cat, I need to write a letter to the 'Tiser about and I can't get the damn thing right." So, in the middle of the supermarket aisle, on the back of envelope or across the shopping list, someone takes down some suggestions from me. The following day I see my words under their name in the paper. That does not bother me. The ideas are theirs. They just need to licked into a shape that could be used. The good thing is that, seeing themselves in print, they will try and express their opinion again at some time. I am all for stirring up discussion and encouraging people to think.
The letters given back to me were collected by a 94yr old. She is an inveterate collect of all sorts of things. Letters by former students and staff are just one thing. There are press cuttings from her days running a special school for physically disabled children, there are press cuttings about former students and staff of the school and their achievements. There are comments on special education. There are volumes of documents about her working life and her holidays. It is all curiously impersonal. It gives no sense of what she is like as a person. Nobody really knows who she is. We never will.
I have never bothered to save copies of my letters. Looking at those which she has saved however I wonder who people really think I am.

Monday 2 November 2009

Too young to read?

I came to reading very early in my life. My classroom was the bony comfort of my father's lap. As he read to me he would put his right forefinger under each word. He did not intend to teach me to read as such. It was just something he did in an effort to make me aware of the words on the page, something to help me make the connection between the black squiggles and the sounds he was making.
I was every bit as interested in those black squiggles as I was in the pictures because I was desperate to be able to read for myself. I wanted to know what was there. I wanted to be able to read my books over and over again.
My mother was of the "not now because I am busy" brigade. She was busy. I know that. I also suspect that she was not terribly interested in helping her eldest and most wayward child to read. She was an infants teacher and no doubt believed I would learn when I went to school. Why bother earlier?
Why indeed? How young is too young? There is a piece in this morning's paper about teaching babies to read - and I mean babies. An American is claiming that it is possible to teach a seven month old baby to read. I seem to remember something like this once before, a book and kit (expensive) designed to "Teach your baby to read". Why?
It seems to me that there is a vast difference between wanting to learn to read, the way I wanted to learn to read, and being deliberately taught to read at a very young age. Do you really need to learn to read at seven months? Is this just another case of "anything your child can do my child can do better"? Is it another case of, "if I teach him or her to read now then I will not have the boring task of reading them a bedtime story later"? Boring?
My father read to me long after I could read for myself. I found out about many of the peculiarities of the English language by working out the words for myself or watching his finger move from word to word. I knew about the difference between "enough" and "bough" and "two, too and to" long before I went to school.
School was not really what I expected. I was bored. My classmates could not read. You went to school to learn to read back then. It was a slow process. You were supposed to learn the letters and then to put the letters together. You had a first primer and then a second primer. You had little books in between and a "speller" with lists of words to learn. I know some of the others struggled. I was often given the task of listening to someone else try to read a page.
It is that which makes me wonder. If a five year old child finds it difficult to learn to read, and some do, why should it be easier for a seven month old baby? Can a baby really learn to read?
Do they have the physical skills, the vocabulary and the understanding of the world necessary for learning to read? I doubt it. I do not think it is desirable. I was about two before I could read. Eighteen months makes an enormous difference at that age.
Surely the best thing for a baby is a lot of sensible talk, the naming of objects, rhymes, looking at pictures. In the highly unlikely event they say, quite clearly, "I want to learn to read" then I would do what my father did. It was a highly satisfactory way of learning to read. It felt safe. That bony lap was strangely comfortable.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Broomstick not needed

I was, just in case, prepared for an invasion last night. Halloween is really only 'celebrated' by commercial interests in Australia. Thankfully it has not become popular among the general populace.
One year we did have two small children dressed as ghosts turn up at our front door. They were giggling and looked back at their father - someone we knew by sight - who gave an apologetic shrug and mouthed, "School exercise". They did not actually want us to give them anything. They were giving us something...handmade Halloween cards like cats. They had made one for each house in the street. After consultation with their father I gave them an apple each and they went off munching happily.
I am aware that some people do get an invasion of local children expecting to 'trick or treat' but our locals seem to think it is not worth bothering about. The healthy snacks I had ready can be used for another purpose.
The two small children have moved on but I often wonder what they managed to learn from the exercise they were given. I like the idea that they had made the cards...cutting out two circles, one large and another smaller, pasting them on to paper and then adding triangles for ears and other shapes for eyes, nose, mouth, whiskers and tail. It was obviously a mathematics lesson in shapes. They had to make it and then give it someone else. I talked to their mother later and discovered that they had only made one at school and the rest were made at home with some help. Our street is very short. There are very few houses in it but they still had to make a number of cards. They were giving something to people they barely knew. It was a reversal of the usual expectation.
I put the cat on the front of my tricycle for a week or so - until he decided to move on. I rather missed the cat but he obviously did not need my broomstick.